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Stefanik blames Pelosi for Capitol riots as House committee hears testimony

Rep. Elise Stefanik gives a victory speech on election night, Nov. 3, 2020, at the Queensbury Hotel in Glens Falls. (Provided photo — Christopher Lenney, Watertown Daily Times)

WASHINGTON — North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik said Speaker of the House Nancy P. Pelosi, D-Calif., bears responsibility for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“The American people deserve to know the truth, that Nancy Pelosi bears responsibility as the speaker of the house for the tragedy that occurred on Jan. 6,” the congresswoman said during a press conference outside the Capitol on Tuesday morning.

Rep. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, and other members of GOP leadership, including House Minority Leader Kevin O. McCarthy, R-Calif., called the press conference as a response to the House Select Committee on Jan. 6. The bipartisan committee, made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans, began its work Tuesday by hearing the testimony of four police officers who were on the front lines of that attack, which left more than 140 people injured and five dead.

In her statement, Rep. Stefanik said Speaker Pelosi is an “authoritarian who has broken the People’s House,” but also said she is a “lame duck” speaker.

Rep. Stefanik said Speaker Pelosi was made aware of potential Capitol security threats in December 2020, and chose not to act on that knowledge.

“It is a fact that the U.S. Capitol Police raised concerns and rather than providing them with support and the resources that they needed and deserved, she prioritized her partisan political optics over her safety,” Rep. Stefanik said.

Congressional leadership, including the speaker of the house, are not responsible for security at the U.S. Capitol. According to the Associated Press, the Capitol Police are overseen by the Architect of the Capitol, the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms and committees from both the House and Senate. The most direct control any member of Congress not on those committees has over the Capitol Police is in budget proceedings. The speaker of the house traditionally does not sit on any committees, and Speaker Pelosi is not a member of any House committee.

In her statement, Rep. Stefanik did not address the involvement of then-President Donald J. Trump or his supporters in the riots. On the morning of Jan. 6, Mr. Trump spoke outside the White House and encouraged his supporters to march on the Capitol to protest the certification of President Joseph R. Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. Many of the people who then broke into the Capitol that afternoon wore Trump merchandise, flew Trump flags and video recordings of that day show many of them chanted slogans in support of Mr. Trump.

People who broke into the Capitol have since said they were spurred on by Mr. Trump’s speech, and believed the election certification on Jan. 6 was a fraud they had to stop.

Republicans have pushed against any investigations into the Jan. 6 attack, with Senate Republicans voting down a resolution that would have created a bipartisan committee of equal Republicans and Democrats in May.

Rep. McCarthy later agreed to send five Republicans to a select committee in early July, but Speaker Pelosi rejected two of his choices, leading him to pull all five nominees.

That leaves noted anti-Trump Reps. Elizabeth L. Cheney, R-Wyo.; and Adam D. Kinzinger, R.-Il; as the only Republicans on the committee.

“The reason why Nancy Pelosi is refusing to seat accomplished and well-respected hardworking Republicans like Jim Jordan and Jim Banks is because she doesn’t want the American people to know the truth or learn the facts,” Rep. Stefanik said. “She doesn’t want a fair or bipartisan investigation, she wants a political one.”

Speaker Pelosi has said Reps. James D. Jordan, R-Ohio; and James E. Banks, R-Ind.; have made statements and taken actions that she believes would impact the integrity of the committee. Both men voted against certifying President Biden’s electoral victory on Jan. 6, and have pushed back against a congressional investigation into that day’s events.

In a statement sent Tuesday, one of Rep. Stefanik’s Democratic challengers in the 2022 election cycle, Matthew F. Putorti, decried her speech as gaslighting — manipulating and lying to someone to convince them to question their own sanity.

“Elise Stefanik’s speech blaming Speaker Pelosi for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is a dangerous attempt to distract the American people from her own endorsement of the Big Lie, which led to an armed attack resulting in the death of police officers and threatening the very foundation of our democracy,” Mr. Putorti said. “Elise is gaslighting and trying to divide, and her statement is the reason people are so disenchanted with our politics.”

According to the AP, in Tuesday’s testimony, Capitol and D.C. Metropolitan police officers recounted their harrowing ordeals on Jan. 6 — of being crushed, tased, heckled and beaten by rioters, all wearing Trump merchandise and shouting in support of the former president.

Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn recounted how his friend had sent him a message showing a plan of attack, drafted by supporters of the former president, to attack the Capitol, but had heard no news of any planned violence from his senior officers in the Capitol Police.

“Looking back now it seemed to foreshadow what happened later, though we had not received any threat warnings from our chain of command,” he told the committee Tuesday morning.

Capitol Police officer Aquilino Gonell recounted how he was crushed by Capitol rioters as he defended the building from attack.

“I thought, ‘This is how I’m going to die, defending this entrance,'” Mr. Gonell said.

After wrapping up Tuesday’s hearing, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., told reporters the committee’s membership will spend the next few weeks putting together the officers’ testimony and reviewing it. He said members would be working from their districts as Congress prepares to enter August recess, but noted the committee may call members back early for another hearing.

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